Zen is the only revolutionary religion in the world. All the other religions are traditional, orthodox, superstitious, fundamentally based on belief. Any religion that is based on belief is a fiction, because belief simply means a repressed doubt.
Zen is an exception: it does not believe in anything – not even in the scriptures, not even in the sutras of Gautam Buddha. Belief, as such, is denied completely. I agree with it, without any condition; that has been my own whole approach.
Truth has to be experienced, not believed. Once you believe in it you will never experience it. Truth has to be searched for. Out of necessity, you have to doubt all the theories and ideologies propounded by the scriptures and others. If you don’t doubt them, you will be in a sheer confusion. If you believe in them you will stop there, at your belief. Your god will be a belief, not a truth. Your own very self will be just a belief, not something that you have lived, not something that you have danced, not something that you have touched. All beliefs take you away from yourself.
To find out the truth, you have to learn the art of disbelief.
Hence Zen has a very special position. Atheists also disbelieve, but they stop at their disbelief, just as theists stop at their belief. The atheist’s disbelief is only negative belief; it is nothing different. But when Zen talks of disbelief or doubt, it simply means a challenge to explore; not something to settle at, but to begin from there. You have discarded and eliminated all beliefs, all disbeliefs: then your pure consciousness asserts itself on its own accord. And the beauty of spontaneous flowering is the only beauty in the world.
Hakuin says – and Hakuin is one of the masters to be listened to very carefully – My humble advice to you distinguished persons who study the profound mystery of the Buddha-dharma is this: your close examination of yourself must be as urgent as saving your own head were it ablaze.
He is saying that your inquiry should be so intense and total… as if it is a question of life and death. If you don’t find it, your life is futile and fruitless. Unless you find it, you cannot blossom and dance and sing in joy. There will not be any rejoicing, any celebration, any festivity in your life. Your life will be a dark, unending night where the sun never rises.
Your efforts to penetrate into your own nature must be as tireless as the pursuit of an indispensable thing; your attitude toward the verbal teachings of the buddhas and patriarchs must be as hostile as that toward a deadly enemy.
This can be said only by a great master, a buddha himself. He is saying that your attitude toward the verbal teachings of the buddhas and patriarchs must be as hostile as that toward a deadly enemy. The implication is that you should not believe in the word, but look for the experience. The word may be coming from the greatest master, but still, it is a word. And howsoever Buddha may have found himself, his nourishment is not going to be your nourishment. If he has quenched his thirst, all that he can say is, “Water has helped me to quench my thirst.” You can go on repeating ”H20” as a mantra but your thirst will not be quenched.
Zen says: Think of all the great words and great teachings as your deadly enemy. Avoid them, because you have to find your own source.
You have not to be a follower, an imitator. You have to be an original individual; you have to find your innermost core on your own, with no guide, no guiding scriptures.
It is a dark night, but with the intense fire of inquiry, you are bound to come to the sunrise. Everybody who has burned with intense inquiry has found the sunrise. Others only believe. Those who believe are not religious, they are simply avoiding the great adventure of religion by believing.
In Zen, he who does not bring strong doubt to bear upon the koans is a dissolute, knavish good-for-nothing. Therefore it is said: “Underlying great doubt is great satori; where there is thorough questioning there will be a thorough-going experience of awakening.”
This is a unique quality of Zen. It says that hidden behind a great doubt is your satori, your enlightenment.
What exactly is doubt? Doubt means eliminating anything that is borrowed. It is not saying that something is not true, it says that “It is not my truth. And unless something is my truth, I am not going to discontinue my search.”
Doubt means a great love for truth, which never compromises for any cheap beliefs which are available in the marketplace, in every temple, in every church, in every synagogue. All the religions are telling you just to believe and you will be saved. This is pure nonsense, because millions of people have believed and nobody seems to be saved.
Millions of people are believing today, but the world is a mess. Their belief does not change the world, their belief does not change them, their belief makes no difference at all in their character. It does only one thing: it functions as an umbrella. It keeps them hiding from a great inquiry that is our basic right. They go on repressing the inquiry with belief, saying, “What is the point of knowing the truth? – Krishna has known it. Just read Shrimad Bhagavadgita every day, and that’s all.” Why should you bother to inquire yourself?
Or they say that Buddha has found it and he has told it: now there is no need for you to find it again.
This is what belief means. It takes your individual inquiry away from you. But remember, with the inquiry gone, the individuality is also gone. All the religions together have conspired to take away the dignity of man, because they have taken man’s individuality. They have made people into a crowd, a crowd of believers.
Zen wants you to be an individual seeker. Throw away all the scriptures, burn all the scriptures, never take anybody’s word as your truth. It is a great challenge, and it needs strength, it needs integrity, it needs a love for truth at any cost. Only those who gamble everything for truth are the blessed ones.
The world of religion is not the world of the businessman. It is the world of the gambler, who risks everything on the unknown – he does not know what is going to happen.
I am reminded… A Japanese actor earned much money in Hollywood, and after earning so much money he thought to go back home and relax: “Enough is enough – there is no point to going on earning. There is a little time before death knocks on the doors, and it will be good to rest.”
But before returning to Japan he thought he should go around the world to have a look before he settled in Japan. He went to Paris, and in a gambling place he risked everything that he had earned – millions of dollars, just in one go. Even the owner was trembling, every gambler there was perspiring: “My God, what kind of man is this?”
He did not save a single dollar, he gambled everything, and lost. And then he went to his room and went to sleep.
The next morning, in the newspapers, there was news that a Japanese man had jumped from the seventh floor of a building and had killed himself. In the hotel everybody thought that it must be the Japanese who risked everything, but in this hotel there were not seven stories. And he had gone to his bed, so they went and knocked on the door. The man opened the door. Those people were shocked to see him – he was perfectly alive. They said, “Have you seen the morning newspaper?”
He said, “Yes, I see that some Japanese has committed suicide from a seventh floor. And I knew you all would think I was going to commit suicide, but I’m not the one to accept defeat. I will earn money again, and I will come back to this hotel to put down just as much money – more than this time!”
And he went back to Hollywood. When he came back after earning enough money, more than the first time, that gambling place had closed. It was too risky. The man said, “What is the matter? Just a day before you were open and now you are closed.”
They said, “You can gamble somewhere else. There are many gambling places in Paris, but don’t frighten us. You are a man of strange steel.”
A man who can gamble everything for the unknown result – that’s exactly the situation of a religious man. You are renouncing all the scriptures and all the great masters’ words, and you are going into your own inner world without any guide, without any map, without any companion, alone, on a path never walked by anybody. Your inner path is your path; nobody else can walk on it.
But if one can doubt totally, denying all that is not his own, it creates an immense purity and creates great power, it gives a tremendous freedom – all which are absolutely necessary to inquire into your own being. What is there? Nobody can say it. Only you have to go there, and only you can go there. Hakuin is saying that there will be a thorough-going awakening where there is thorough-going questioning.
Go on questioning everything that the religions have been telling you to believe. Belief is the greatest barrier to the religious man. But just the contrary has been preached: faith and belief are praised by all religions. And the world that we see is the result of this stupid teaching – believing and having faith. Out of a thousand years of believing what have you gained? Where are you? The world has never been in more of a mess than it is today. If you want to get out of the mess, please throw out all that you have believed up to now.
Be utterly naked of belief, and the truth is not very far away. Just turn in and it is there. It does not come by faith, it comes by turning in. Faith is outside, belief is outside. Only turning in brings a transformation in being.
Do not say, “Since my thoughts are always flying about in confusion, I lack the power to apply myself to genuine concentration on my koan.”
Suppose that, among the dense crowd of people in the hurly-burly of the marketplace, a man accidentally loses two or three pieces of gold. You will never find anyone who, because the place is noisy and bustly or because he has dropped his pieces of gold in the dirt, will not turn back to look for them. He pushes any number of people about, stirs up a lot of dust, and weeping copious tears rushes around searching for his gold. If he doesn’t get it back into his own two hands, he will never regain his peach of mind.
Hakuin is saying that the loss of even two or three pieces of gold is enough to make you look for them, but you don’t know what a treasure is hidden inside you, what a splendor you are carrying.
Do you consider the priceless jewel worn in the hair, your own inherent, marvelous Tao, of less value than two or three pieces of gold?
You never bother about who is hidden inside you, what is the source of your being.
Those who have known the source, they are unanimously in agreement that it is the most precious experience that can happen in this world. It is the most universal which gives you a deathlessness, and which gives your life a tremendous freshness, and in each moment a radiance, a grace, a beauty. Your whole life becomes a celebration.
And this is something that nobody can steal away. This is something that nobody can destroy. Even death is incapable of touching it. It is your eternal treasure. From eternity to eternity, it is yours – but you never look at it.
Earth, river, mountain:
Snowflakes melt in air.
How could I have doubted?
Where is North? South? East? West?
Once you know, doubt commits suicide on its own accord. Never believe; let the doubt die. That is a totally different situation. When you believe, doubt remains alive – in fact, very forcibly alive.
One Christian missionary, Stanley Jones, said to me, “My faith in Jesus Christ is absolute!”
I said, “You simply analyze your own statement. Is not faith enough? Has it to be absolute? What is the purpose of the word ‘absolute’? Faith is enough, if it is there. But it is not there. Just by the side of faith are disbelief, unfaith, doubt – all are there. To cover them up you have to bring a bigger umbrella. Absolute faith simply shows that your doubt is very great. Ordinary people have small doubts; their faith is small. You are a learned scholar, a world-famous scholar – naturally your doubt is going to be very great.”
He said, “I had never looked from this angle, but perhaps you are right.” He was a very honest man. He said, “I will have to think it over.”
When somebody says to somebody else, “I love you absolutely,” then you have to be aware. Don’t get caught in absolute love affairs – just temporary is good. Absolute is going to be a constant murder!
The real lovers don’t even say “I love you.” They will not use the word ‘love’ for their great experience. The word is very small and used too many times; it has lost its freshness. It is my experience that when love starts disappearing, people start saying to each other, “I love you very much.” It is only when love starts disappearing, when they become aware that love is no more there, now only words can continue the misery that they used to call love. Now they have to repeat it continuously.
But if you know, then the moment you have dropped all belief, including disbelief; when your doubt is total, suddenly there is an explosion, as if the fire of your being, which was hidden, has come to its fully-fledged form. Its flames are even reaching out of you. You are on fire! In this case there is no question of doubt and there is no question of belief. You simply know.
Once a Western journalist asked Shri Aurobindo, “Do you believe in God?” It is a very common question. Shri Aurobindo said, “No.”
The man was very much puzzled. He had come to see him from far away just because he had heard that he was a man of God. So the journalist was not going to just leave Shri Aurobindo at that.
He asked, “What do you mean by saying no?”
Aurobindo said, “When you know something, you do not believe. Do you believe in the sun? Do you believe in the starry night? Do you believe in the roses? You see they are there: there is no question of belief.”
Belief arises only in darkness, when you don’t know. And belief keeps you in darkness – because of belief you never try to discover on your own what is the truth.
Butterflies setting out
To cross the sea,
My self comes back to me.
He is saying that all our thoughts are nothing but butterflies trying to cross the sea: they will disappear somewhere. Have you watched your thoughts? If you have lived forty or fifty years, how many million thoughts have crossed the sea and disappeared? Every day, you go on creating new thoughts and they go on disappearing into the dust. Only one thing remains with you, and that is your am-ness. Only you remain.
As a Zen poet has said, “Clouds come and go and the sky remains.” It never goes anywhere, it never comes from anywhere. You are the sky. Anything that happens in this sky is just a traffic – no need to be concerned about it, no need to be identified with it.
Maneesha has asked a question:
I have understood you to encourage us to keep the ability to doubt always alive. Is there no point at which doubt is no longer needed? A point when it is no longer helpful?
Yes, there comes a point when you know the truth, when doubt simply dies. It is no more useful, no more helpful. It is just a shadow that disappears, as when you bring light into a house and all the darkness disappears.
Doubt is part of the dark night. It is useful when the night is there to give you an impetus, a persistence, a perseverance to search for the rising sun. But once you have reached the rising sun the darkness disappears, and with it the doubt too.
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